Mushroom: The Matsutake mushroom is synonymous with gold to the people living in the various villages sprinkled across Genekha gewog at the foot of the mighty Dagala.

The locals have been mining this resource for more than 26 years now.

Kencho, 62, said he earned about Nu 25,000 last year as he and his wife could collect only 20kg of the mushroom last year.

“In the old days, I could earn up to Nu 50,000 as I could walk faster,” Kencho said.

That is the minimum a household earns from collecting Matsutake. Many earn close to double that amount farmers said.

A representative of the Mushroom group, Khandu said only half of the registered members from the five chiwogs collect.

“Many don’t have enough farm labour so they can’t spare any to collect,” he said.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said the farmers should do more to improve their product image in the international market mainly in Japan.

Lyonchoen, during a recent meeting. said that in the past people tried to insert nails and inject water into the mushrooms so that weighed more. “These tricks are not acceptable at all,” he said.

He urged the farmers to sustain a good reputation for the long-term benefits. “This resource and business has the promise to result in higher returns if the villagers harvested them sustainably and supplied quality product,” he said.

Villagers said such illicit practices are history.

“There is strict quality control these days within the group and the two national buyers who export the mushroom,” Nim Dorji said.

From last year, their market expanded with the first Matsutake festival in the gewog.

“We hope more customers will turn up at the festival on August 15 and 16 this year,” he said.

The villagers shifted the spot of the festival to a larger space and are preparing to dedicate it to the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Bhutan-Japan relationship.

Visitors can hunt mushrooms, experience local life living with the villagers during the two-day festival.

Thimphu’s dzongkhag administration handed over the Genekha forest to the community to manage the Sangay shamu (Matsutake) rich forest in June 2009.

The community protects the forest as to a large extent their lives depend on it.

The Genekha community, which earns between Nu 250,000 to Nu 400,000 every season selling the highly-prized Sangay shamu.

According to villagers, they have strict rules among themselves and don’t allow mushroom collectors from other places to “ravage” their main source of cash income.

Every farmer has their own secret spot, and protects it from others. The individuals would not share it with even their family members.

Most of the collectors therefore choose to go alone for collection. The productivity of the mushroom depends upon the care and management of the place.

Sangay Shamu collection starts from July till the end of August in Genekha. This year the season is delayed, farmers said, as the lunar calendar has a double seventh month.

Farmers from 105 households get better prices than in Ura, Bumthang, since the buyers come to their gewog centre and their produce can be easily exported via Paro airport.

Tshering Palden